It’s a risky proposition yet, companies far and wide, are struggling with the decision of how, to bring employees back while making sure their health and safety remains intact. The economic fallout from COVID-19 have an economic blow to many businesses-and, unlike, other disasters (natural or otherwise,) such as IT outage or an extreme weather event, this global pandemic does not have a definitive end in sight.
If, like many businesses, you are in the processing of bringing some or all of your employees back to the office, here are some tips from an article titled Ready to Bring Employees Back to the Workplace? Here Are 12 Things to Consider from Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender
Before employees return
Organizations will want to consider these activities before the first employee comes back to the work environment. It’s possible that some of them are already in motion, especially if you’ve had employees occasionally visiting the office space while most employees are working remotely.
- Put together an “opening team.” The team’s first task should be to understand what the requirements are for your geographic area and industry in terms of safety requirements (i.e. numbers of employees allowed onsite, customer capacity, distancing requirements, etc.)
- Look at the work layout. Discuss what should be done with workspaces to permit proper distancing. This includes individual desks, conference rooms, employee break areas, as well as customer areas.
- Talk with legal and risk management. Find out the answers to questions about bringing back employees from furlough or terminated status. Be prepared to address onsite testing as well as contact tracing policies and procedures.
- Ask managers to begin talking with employees about returning to work. Find out if managers have any questions that will need to be addressed. Consider giving employees who are apprehensive about returning some additional time working remotely.
During the employees’ return
I’m sure there will be a phase-in period where employees start showing up to the office. It’s also possible that employees might work in a transition phase where they spend a couple of days working remotely and then a couple of days in the office. Workplaces will have to be flexible during this time.
- Establish a monitoring committee. This group will have a different task from the opening team and could be in place longer. This committee will be responsible for monitoring local updates and communicating to employees any changes in protocols.
- Create a welcome letter. This correspondence can be done via email or video and it’s designed to tell employees what to expect in the new office environment. In fact, it could make sense to have a general message from the CEO and another one from the employee’s direct manager.
- Give managers flexibility. Speaking of managers, it might be helpful to give them more flexibility than usual in offering employees staggered shifts, flexible work hours, and the ability to approve remote work.
- Put a procedure in place for employees to express their concerns. No one wants employees to choose between their safety and their job. Let employees know if they see something that makes them uncomfortable, how they should address it. The goal here isn’t to get people into trouble. It’s to keep everyone safe.
After most employees have returned
As more employees return to the office, the organization will want to figure out how to get back to “normal”. Frankly, employees will be looking for that as well. It helps everyone stay focused and productive.
- At this point, organizations might be thinking about business travel. It might be necessary to redefine what’s considered essential and non-essential business travel. Some of this might tie into a revised budget.
- Evaluate technology needs. Hopefully, we won’t face another pandemic, but employees might need better technology that gives them the ability to be productive while working remotely. Make sure they have the right technology to support their work.
- Conduct a debrief. Organizations will hear that the government is permitting them to do something but that “something” may/may not be best for the organizations’ business model and employees. Companies will have to start deciding how – as restrictions are relaxed – they will make decisions.
- Finally, put together an emergency plan for next time. Again, hopefully you’ll never have to use it. While all of these thoughts are fresh in everyone’s mind, put a plan on paper.
Bottomline: The COVID-19 pandemic “new normal” has forced business leaders and their HR departments into some of the most challenging times on record-whether its adapting to new workforce demands, managing dispersed teams or maintaining employee engagement in a time of volatility.